This series of blogs began on May 29th and has continued in wvery blog since. In the first of these I translated the blessings of Jesus from Matthew 5, and meditated on them as a spiritual exercise.
Happiness for those who have clean hearts:
they will see God.
So what is a dirty heart? From a biblical point of view, it is a heart with affection for idols. That begins with the story of Adam and Eve who make idols of themselves (you will be like gods!) through the incident of the golden calf, to the psychologically more subtle narrative of David’s lust for Bathsheba and its murderous consequence. Whatever becomes more important than the one God, is an idol. A dirty heart is one whose affection makes some thing, person, pleasure or even duty, demonic, letting loose into the person and the world a contaminating spiritual influence, which conceals the goodness of God.
If that sounds such a heavy mode of going astray, that we imagine ourselves immune to its power, then we should also understand that an inordinate affection for triviality can also be idolatry: we can become so addicted to a diet of social media that we neglect matters of real importance. The person who can neglect the human being standing by their side to connect with their smart phone is a common instance of this idolatry. And of course, more generally, allowing all manner of ugliness to wash through us daily from any sort of media, is a persistent danger to our hearts.
A more serious idolatry, common in our society, is our affection for the role of consumer, which the capitalism of our time urges upon us. Clearly this involves an affection for possessions and consumables, which in turn fuels a lust for the wealth to make consumption possible. This treadmill in its turn gives people an affection for power, personal, social and political, without which they might not have the means to consume
These idolatries are dirty affections which possess and degrade the heart, depriving it of clean affection for animals, people, the universe and the creator.
For those of us who suffer from idolatry, a moment in which our hearts are seduced by true affection, can be revelatory. This can happen through genuine love, through goodwill, through beauty, through religion, through the depth of meaning in art, through an encounter with death, through comedy and its purifying laughter, through anything that breaks through the scum of addictive affection. At that point we experience goodness, we “see” God.
And it makes us happy, so happy that we may desire nothing less than that happiness as the purpose of our living. And if we are resolute, we can allow the happiness to convert us, a process which includes evicting the dirty affections from our heart. Few of us succeed altogether in this, leaving us with divided hearts, which want sometimes to hold on to our idols at the expense of God’s goodness. But we know, now, that our dirty affections are destructive whereas our clean affections are nourishing. We want to have clean hearts, we want to see God.